As a part of our Hayes Helps volunteer program, we partner with Honor Flight South Florida. Honor Flight South Florida is a 100% all-volunteer organization, dedicated solely to honoring all veterans in Broward, Dade, and Monroe counties. In the final chapters of their lives, it’s a race against time to fly these veterans to Washington D.C. to visit and reflect at the memorials built in their honor.

For Hayes Locums employees, who volunteer as guardians, this day is more than just a quick trip to D.C. The moments throughout the day add up to create a deeply memorable and meaningful experience not just for our volunteers, but the veterans themselves. It’s an experience that reminds the veterans how appreciated they are and just how much of an impact they made on so many lives.

We sat down and spoke with one of our own, Julie Tchividjian, a quality assurance supervisor who traveled to D.C. in October of 2021.

This was Julie’s first time volunteering with Honor Flight, but we doubt it will be her last. Her veteran was 87 years old and had served in the Korean War in the 1950s. The experience for the two of them began the Tuesday before the trip, when Julie visited her veteran at his house. “We talked for over an hour,” she said. “It was a great opportunity to get to know him better before the trip.” While she told us about her day in D.C., she teared up as she remembered the moments where her veteran felt truly touched.

“My veteran is a stoic man, and he had his quiet moments, but throughout the day he kept saying ‘This is very, very nice.’ I’ve been with Hayes a little over five years, and have volunteered with other organizations, but Honor Flight is my favorite to date for sure.”

A Day of Appreciation and Care

The day begins early in the morning for everyone. Julie picked her veteran up at 2:15am, and took him to the meeting point for the bus. Accompanied by a Broward Sheriff’s office escort, the group of veterans and guardians took a chartered bus to the Miami Airport.

“From the moment we were on the bus to the end of the day, the veterans were appreciated and cared for,” said Julie.

During the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, guards are not permitted to stop or acknowledge anyone, but they will make a distinct sound by dragging their boots along the concrete when veterans are present to show their appreciation. “We had a discussion on the bus en route to Arlington, and I told him that when I would hear the scuffing of the boots, that I would put my hand on his back for him to know this was happening. The guard did in fact scuff his boots, and I gently put my hand on his back, and he simply nodded. This was a very moving experience for me and all the veterans there—a highlight for sure.”

Letters from Friends, Family, and Strangers

On their return flight home, veterans are presented with large envelopes of letters collected from friends, family, and strangers to show their appreciation. “This is deemed Mail Call, and is a total surprise to the veterans,” Julie said.

“He read every single word, and then he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, ‘This is what made this day worth it.’ He kept saying he wished he had addresses to thank the people who wrote to him.”

At the end of the day, late at night, Julie dropped her veteran off at home and he said “I want you to stay in touch with me.” They kept that promise and talked on the phone the next day, and have spoken once a week since. The unique connections that are made during these trips are invaluable. We feel that is what makes this experience so special. It might take place in a day, but the relationships built during that short amount of time tend to stay around for a while.

About Honor Flight
Honor Flight is one of the opportunities given to our employees through our Hayes Helps program. They provide all-expenses paid trips to Washington, D.C. for veterans. Volunteers accompany and assist veterans during the trip as they visit war memorials. The organization has flown more than 245,000 veterans who served during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and others.